Congress returned from the July 4th recess last week and moved quickly on a number of initiatives, as there are only three weeks until the August recess begins. The Appropriations process is a top priority for both House and Senate Leadership, because the deadline for passing the spending bills to fund the government is fast approaching: the Federal fiscal year ends on September 30th and with Congress out for the month of August, there will be limited days to work out the details of the 12 bills.

As reported previously, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) has announced that the House will write and markup their Appropriations bills with topline numbers consistent with FY2022 spending levels, though the Defense spending will see an increase. In order to accomplish this, nondefense bills will see significant cuts, estimated to be about 22-30% lower than this year’s spending. Meanwhile, the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass these bills, is moving forward in a bipartisan manner and putting forward bills that meet the FY2023 funding levels specified in the Debt Ceiling Agreement signed in June.

This week, both Chambers moved some of the appropriations bills through subcommittees. Three of these bills have relevant programs that CWLA is following.

The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which includes Juvenile Justice funding, passed out of the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, July 13th, 2023, in a bipartisan 28-1 vote. The Senate bill maintains funding for juvenile justice programs, with overall funding of these programs getting a small increase. Meanwhile, the House version of this bill was marked up in the Subcommittee on July 14th; the House bill guts Title V Incentive Grant for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs, eliminating most funding and moving some set asides to other parts of the bill, and makes a $20M cut to the Title II State Formula Grants to help with planning and operating local juvenile delinquency prevention programs. The full Committee markup has not been announced yet.

The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Bill was marked up by the Subcommittee on Wednesday, July 12th. Although this bill maintains rental assistance funding, a vitally important program that keeps people housed, it also includes deep spending cuts in other areas and elimination of some important programs. The Transportation part of the bill is hit hardest. One of the programs that is eliminated in this bill is the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides vouchers for families and individuals with experience in the child welfare system. FUP vouchers can be given to families for whom the lack of adequate housing is a primary factor in either the imminent placement of the children in out-of-home care or the delay in reunification, and to eligible young people who have exited foster care. As housing costs rise and it becomes increasingly difficult to find and maintain affordable housing, these vouchers are a critical support for families. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up this bill on Thursday, July 20th; text has not been released yet.

Finally, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Bill was marked up by the Subcommittee on July 14th. The report language and funding charts are not yet available, but according to the bill summary released by the majority party, the House Labor-HHS bill preserves funding for children and youth in foster care. The bill includes flat funding for Promoting Safe and Stable Families and includes $20M for Kinship Navigator programs and $6.75M for the Family First Clearinghouse. This preservation of funding is no doubt due to the advocacy and hard work of the child welfare community, and we are grateful for it.

However, we know that prevention of child welfare involvement starts in the community, and full, robust funding for programs and services that provide support to families is necessary. This bill does not provide that robust funding, instead cutting the overall budget by more than $60B, a 29% cut from FY2023 funding levels and the lowest allocation since 2008. The Department of Education budget sees the biggest decrease, a cut of $22.5 billion, including massive cuts to Title I grants and eliminating funding for several programs. It also eliminates job training programs, several CDC programs including firearm injury and death prevention research, and cuts funding for SAMHSA. Notably, the bill also cuts Head Start by $750 million, eliminates the Preschool Development Grants, and cuts the Unaccompanied Children program by $3.3 billion, more than half the current funding. The House has not announced a full committee markup of this bill yet, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet announced a markup or released the text of their Labor-HHS bill.

More markups will happen in the coming weeks, with both Chambers aiming to finish their bills before the August recess. The bills will then go into a conference committee to work out the differences; already House Conservatives have indicated they won’t vote for compromise bills, so House and Senate leadership will need to work together to produce bills that can garner enough votes to pass both chambers. Some advocates have started predicting either a short government shutdown, in the event that the House and Senate can’t come to an agreement on these bills, or else a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to resolve differences before the end of the calendar year.